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E01962: The Greek Life of *Phōkas (martyr of Sinope, S00052), of the 6th c. or later, recounts the birth and a series of miracles performed by the saint during his childhood; he is described as a healer, exorcist, and effective help for boats in danger. Probably written in Pontus (northern Asia Minor).

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posted on 27.10.2016, 00:00 by erizos
Life of *Phōkas (BHG 1535y, 1535z)

Summary

First Version (BHG 1535y)

1. In the twenty-fifth year after the life of Christ, a certain Pamphilos from Pontus marries Makaria from Amaseia/Amasea and settles with her in Herakleia/Heraclea Pontica. They have a son, born about the time of Christ’s Birth, and name him Phōkas. They raise him diligently, hoping to be tended by him when he grows up.

2. At the age of five, they send him to school, in order to be trained as a seaman. Phōkas pays little attention to his studies, and spends his time fasting by the sea.

3-4. When Phōkas is ten years old, an Alexandrian ship calls at the town, and spends the winter there. The shipowner Theon wishes to get the ship back to sea, and gathers 1500 people for the purpose. Yet after several attempts, they fail to move it, and some of them die, struck by an evil spirit. In a dream, Theon is instructed to look for Phōkas in the city.

5. The townfolk take him to the house of Pamphilos, where he implores Phōkas, just arrived from school, to help him. Phōkas goes happily to the ship, where the bodies of the dead men still lie.

6. As he approaches, the demon starts shouting that Phōkas will condemn him to the eternal hell. Asked about his name, by Phōkas, the demon confesses to being Hercules. He used to live at Theon’s house, but was driven away by the ascetic Theodore, and moved to his boat. He killed Theon’s sons, because they had slept with a certain female friend of his.

7. Phōkas orders the demon to depart, and the latter starts shaking the ship. The saint prays and seals the whole ship from prow to poop with the cross. The demon goes into the sea, threatening to return, but Phōkas sends him to hell forever.

8. The seamen ask Phōkas to stay with them during the night. He has dinner with them and sleeps on the prow of the boat. When another crowd comes looking for him, a voice from heaven announces that Phōkas has been taken by an angel to Amaseia, in order to save a ship that had hit on rocks near the isle of Klonidis.

9. Phōkas arrives at the troubled ship and prays for its salvation. A possessed young man recognises him, but Phōkas silences him. He wakes the seamen and they get on small boats, by which they return the ship to the sea. The shipowner falls at the saint’s feet and gives him one hundred gold pieces for the poor, and a horse.

10. The saint arrives on horseback at the city, and distributes the gold to the poor. The same demon he had driven out of the ship follows the saint. Phōkas sends him to hell, but, while he leaves, he kills a young man. Phōkas raises him, and the townfolk bring him all those suffering for him to heal.

11. Phōkas’ parents arrive, and find him in the middle of the crowd exorcising possessed people. His mother embraces him, while his father, hearing his voice, falls down, as if dead. Phōkas raises and embraces him too. Phōkas stays for several days at Amaseia, tending the poor and healing the sick and the possessed. The spirits confess having been driven out by Phōkas.

12. One day, a ship from Macedonia coming to Pontus, is caught by a storm, and is in extreme danger. Seeing this from the land, the people ask Phōkas to help. He takes two young men and a boat and approaches the ship. He drops his cloak onto the ship, and calms the sea.

13. Phōkas lives like this until the age of twenty. He lives a holy life, helping people both on land and sea, and becomes famous throughout the world. One day, as he enters a church, a dove comes and places a wreath on his head, and announces to him that the time has come for him to drink his chalice. From that point on, he expects only martyrdom.


Second Version (BHG 1535z)

1. In the twenty-fifth year after the ascension of Christ, a certain shipwright and shipowner Pamphilos from Pontus, a noble man of foreign descent, comes to Sinōpe and marries Maria, with whom he has a son, Phōkas. They raise him diligently, hoping to be tended by him when he grows up.

2. At the age of ten, they send him to school, in order to be trained as a shipwright. Phōkas pays little attention to his study, and spends his time fasting by the sea. His parents look for him, but he replies that they should not worry about him.

[lacuna in the text corresponding to paragraphs 3-6 of the previous version]

6. As he approaches, the demon starts shouting that Phōkas will condemn him to the eternal hell. Asked about his name by Phōkas, the demon confesses to being the invincible Hercules. He used to live at the house, but was driven away by the ascetic Theodoros, and moved to his boat. He killed three young men, because they had slept with a certain female friend of his.

7. Phōkas orders the demon to depart, and the latter starts shaking the ship. The saint prays and seals the whole ship from prow to poop with the cross. The demon goes into the sea, threatening to return, but Phōkas sends him to hell forever.

8. An angel takes Phōkas to Amisos. When a crowd comes looking for him, a voice from heaven announces that Phokas has been taken by an angel to Amisos, in order to save a ship that had hit on rocks near the isle of Kronis.

9. Phokas arrives at the troubled ship and prays for its salvation. A possessed young man recognises him, but Phokas silences him. He wakes the seamen and they get on small boats, by which they return the ship to the sea. The shipowner falls at the saint’s feet and gives him one hundred gold pieces for the poor, and a horse.

10. The saint arrives on horseback at Amaseia, and distributes the gold to the poor people sitting by the city gate. The possessed man he had silenced on the ship follows the saint. Phokas asks his name and he replies that he is the invincible Hērōn. Phokas exorcises the demon, who leaves the young man half-dead. The saint raises him, and the townfolk bring all those suffering for him to heal.

11. Phokas’ parents arrive, and find him in the middle of the crowd exorcising possessed people. His mother embraces him, while his father, hearing his voice, falls down, as if dead. Phokas raises and embraces him too. Phokas stays for several days at Amaseia, tending the poor and healing the sick and the possessed. [The text breaks here]

History

Evidence ID

E01962

Saint Name

Phokas, martyr of Sinope : S00052

Saint Name in Source

Φωκᾶς

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom Literary - Hagiographical - Lives of saint

Language

Greek

Evidence not before

500

Activity not before

500

Place of Evidence - Region

Asia Minor

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Nicomedia Νικομήδεια Nikomēdeia Izmit Πραίνετος Prainetos Nicomedia

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Saint as patron - of a community

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Healing diseases and disabilities Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather) Healing diseases and disabilities Miraculous protection - of people and their property Invisibility, bilocation, miraculous travels Specialised miracle-working Exorcism Material support (supply of food, water, drink, money)

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Children Crowds Merchants and artisans Relatives of the saint

Source

On the manuscript tradition of this text, see Van de Vorst 1911.

Discussion

This hagiographic text reflects some central aspects of the cult of Phokas, namely his role as a helper of seamen and miraculous healer, and his great popularity in the cities of Pontus. The date of the text in its two versions (which are very similar in their fundamental structure) is uncertain, and it provides very little internal evidence for its chronology. It seems to have been unknown to our earliest source for the hagiography and cult of Phokas, an early 5th-century homily by Asterius of Amasea (E01961). It is likely to be later than that, indeed no earlier than the 6th century. Given its focus on the cities of Pontus, one would expect that the text was produced there. The more fragmentary BHG 1535z preserves a much better and more coherent version of the text and its narrative. 1535x features logical gaps, and a confused geography, chiefly expressed in the account about Phokas saving a ship at an island near Amaseia/Amasea. Amaseia is a landlocked city far from the sea, a fact which points to limited knowledge of the geography of the region. The text can be broadly categorised as a life before martyrdom, a relatively small category of hagiographical writing, the earliest example of which is probably the Life of *Polycarp of Smyrna (E00453). The strictly biographical details provided are, of course, very limited. The text starts with the curious statement about the birth of the saint twenty-five years after the life of Christ, i.e. in the AD 50s/60s. The legend about a martyr living and dying immediately after the time of Christ is also reminiscent of the legend of *Konōn of Magydos (E00359), which presents its hero as a relative of Jesus. The main body of the narrative is an enumeration of miracles, focusing on seamen, ships, and demons. The most distinctive aspects of this narrative are its geographical scope and the saint’s childhood: Phokas is supposed to be ten years old when he starts performing his miracles, being miraculously transferred through all the major cities of Pontus, Heraclea (Karadeniz Ereğlisi), Sinōpē (Sinop), Amisos (Samsun) and Amasea (Amasya). Apparently, our text serves the need of establishing a personal association of the saint with all the major towns of Pontus. The broad geographical spectrum of the narrative, establishes Phokas as the regional saint of all Pontus. It is a motif in hagiography present in the several Coptic and Greek passiones (e.g. the Greek Martyrdom of *Sergios of Resapha E02791, or that of *Alexandros of Drusipara E00321). A striking motif of the account is Phokas’ age. He is portrayed as a ten-year-old schoolboy when he starts his miracles and continues till he is twenty. Interest in the childhood of saints is quite pronounced in Anatolian hagiography from the 7th century on: the first part of the Life of *Theodoros of Sykeon, for instance, is dedicated to the asceticism and miracles of the saint as a child. Thus the figure of the ascetic and miracle-working child Phokas may, in fact, be the result of influence from monastic hagiography. It is also possible that the interest in Phokas' childhood is due to the relation of his cult with the pagan cult of the Dioscuri. As stated by Asterius of Amasea (E01963), Phokas replaced them in their role as patrons of seamen. We may assume that he inherited from their cult his youthful appearance in popular imagination. Beliefs and cult practices of seamen about Phokas are widely reflected in the account of this text: after his first miracle, Phokas is invited to have dinner with the sailors, and receives money for alms; both of these episodes correspond to the practice of sailors saving a portion of their dinner in honour of the saint, which they exchanged for money that was distributed to the poor (see E01963). Finally, the text is highly suggestive of the social groups associated with this cult, and of the pagan cults targeted by it. There is no reference to clerics or aristocrats, but the text focuses on the ‘common people’ of the cities, with a special focus on shipwrights, ship-owners and sailors. It demonstrates familiarity with details of the nautical crafts and the life conditions of the people of this profession. Finally, the fact that the saint exorcises a demon who reveals himself as Hercules, may suggest that Phokas’ cult competed with that of this hero, who was, among others, the patron of Heraclea Pontica – birthplace of Phokas, according to BHG 1535y.

Bibliography

Text and commentary: Van de Vorst, C. "Saint Phocas." Analecta Bollandiana 30 (1911): 252-95.

Usage metrics

Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

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